Style Shifting and Translator’s Intention in Self-Retranslation:

: Corpus-informed Comparison between Two Translations of The Journey to the West by Anthony Yu

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Based on the historiography of the English translations (1895-2016) of one of the major novels of the Chinese canon, The Journey to the West, this doctoral thesis sets out to compare Anthony Yu’s translations between themselves —his 100-chapter complete translation (2012), and his 31-chapter abridged translation (2005)— as well as with other English translations. Yu’s translations have received extensive attention in the fields of literature research, religious research, translation studies, and others, and have become the object of adaptations in the genres of film, TV play and drama. There is a special phenomenon in retranslation research, that is, self-retranslation. Self-retranslation, as a particular variant of retranslation, refers to when the same translator reedits, retranslates, or rewrites his or her previous translation for certain purposes. Usually, the process of self-retranslation involves both intralingual translation (reediting, rewriting the previous translation for greater acceptance) and interlingual translation (recalibrating the correspondence between the source text and target text for greater accuracy). The contributing factors to self-retranslation are of two types: for the sake of the translator, caused by the translator’s ideological changes or his or her personal reflection; and for the sake of social factors: influences from patronages, social poetics, etc. Based on a bibliometric analysis of the translation studies on The Journey to the West, the results show that domestic publications largely focus on translation strategies, especially at the lexical level (such as culturally loaded words, Buddhist terms, etc.). Despite the smaller scale, the international publications on this subject employ diverse approaches, which can be divided into the following three groups: (1) micro studies from the perspective of discourse analysis or stylistics, (2) meso studies mainly based on narratology; (3) macro studies from the perspectives of world literature, or cultural studies. In order to reveal the style-shifting in the self-retranslation, this study suggests an escalating research model: describing and comparing the stylistic patterns through the lenses of stylistics (Mahlberg, 2013) and narrative (Baker, 2006), while explaining the style-shifting by world literature theory (Lefevere, 1992). The two translations were stored in plain text format (.txt files). The abridged translation is compared with the reference corpus, i.e. the complete translation. Herein, a two-pronged approach is presented to investigate the style-shifting, that is, the foregrounded and the backdropped meanings in the abridgment. Methodologically, the style-shifting is researched and triangulated in terms of objective and subjective stylistics. The former identifies stylistic meanings with the foregrounded content; in contrast, the latter delves into readers’ reactions. In this study, objective stylistics are further divided into micro stylistics and macro stylistics in light of the research unit. Micro stylistics aims at the quantitatively prominent lexical-grammar patterns, while macro stylistics addresses the literary themes directly. Given that the literary themes (semantics) are represented at the level of lexicogrammar, this study adopts corpus-informed translation stylistics to delineate the objective stylistics. This study intends to answer the following four questions: 1. How does the translator describe his self-retranslation strategies? How does he account for his motivation for self-retranslation? 2. At the level of macro stylistics, what style-shifting happens in terms of ontological narratives, public narratives, conceptual narratives, and meta-narratives? 3. At the level of micro stylistics, is the characterization of the protagonist “the Great Sage” modified due to being abridged? 4. At the level of subjective stylistics, how do readers perceive the stylistic effects between two versions? Can the findings of subjective stylistics be cross-referenced with the objective stylistics? The motivations for self-retranslation usually appear in a preface, postscript or annotation, which is referred to as the “translator’s voice” (Hermans, 1996). Admittedly, there may be discrepancies between the translator’s voice and the actual stylistic features. Likewise, there may also be incongruity between the stylistic features and the readers’ reactions. Therefore, this study adopts corpus stylistics to describe the stylistic features, and then triangulates the results with the translator’s voice and the reader’s reactions. The major findings can be summarized as follows: Based on Baker’s (2006) framework, macro stylistics is directly concerned with the variations in the thematic meanings. The ontological narratives are the stories about Tripitaka. The abridged translation changes the cowardly side of Tripitaka’s character while strengthening his religious fortitude. One possible explanation of this shift is to alleviate the readers’ confusion between the historical Xuanzang and the fictional Tripitaka in The Journey to the West. The doctrinal discrepancy between the Little Vehicle and the Great Vehicle is one theme of public narratives: the former pursues self-cultivation of the practitioners, while the latter advocates public salvation. Anthony Yu’s 31-abridged translation is manipulated to highlight the public salvation side of Buddhism. The conceptual narratives of demonology are reshuffled: the demons at large or incorporated into the celestial system regardless of their evils are the largest subtype in the original novel. These demons totally vanish from the abridged translation. Although we cannot find the translator’s justification for this change, the ulterior purpose of the source text is commonly considered to satirize the bureaucratic apparatus of the author’s times. Of course, most target readers in the English-speaking community have no access to the cultural context of the source text, which can account for the alteration of the conceptual narratives in the abridged translation. Finally, the meta-narratives are the pilgrimage. Selective appropriation of textual material and reframing by labeling are considered to be the primary strategies of realizing the changes of meta-narrative, i.e. a different pilgrimage story. Through the systematic narrative research, we can draw the conclusion that the abridged translation, no matter how faithful the translation endeavors to be, cannot fulfill the same functions or arouse the same interpretations in the target context. At the level of micro stylistics, this study obtains five-word clusters from both translations with the aid of the corpus tool PowerConc. These clusters are subject to Mahlberg’s (2013) functional typology: Label, Body, Speech, Time & Place, Textual. The difference in the label clusters between the two versions indicates that the abridged version foregrounds the image of Sun Wukong (Monkey King), especially his insurgent identity of “the Great Sage”. Body clusters in the complete translation are mainly used in the expression of magic, which fades away in the abridged version. These adjustments can be regarded as a loss of literariness as a consequence of being abridged. Textual clusters mainly appear at the beginning and the end of each chapter to connect the adjacent chapters. There is not a significant difference in terms of textual clusters between two translations. This study finds that Mahlberg’s (2013) “local discourse function” model is exclusively confined to the function of the clusters in question without considerations of the interplay between the clusters and the context they are embedded in. In order to address this limitation, we extended the cluster analysis to a key cluster analysis (the significant clusters in the abridged translation calculated by loglikelihood, LL>10.83, p<0.001) and interpret the function of the key clusters in the situation context through the lens of systemic functional grammar. The result shows that the conversion process of Sun Wukong from his insurgent identity “the Great Sage” to his Buddhist identity “Pilgrim” is weakened in the abridged translation. Instead, the characterization of Sun is primarily based on his insurgent’s speech and acts. In this sense, the Buddhist allegorical meanings in the abridgment are to some extent lost. This finding echoes the analytical result of the public narratives in the macro stylistic research, i.e. the abridgment foregrounds the public salvation, while diluting the spiritual development of the pilgrims. The fundamental difference between objective and subjective stylistics lies in their semantic outlook, i.e. how the stylistic values of literature come into being. Subjective stylistics maintains that the stylistic values emerge from the interaction between the readers and the text, rather than residing within the text. The empirical data in the subjective stylistics are collected from readers’ comments of consumers on the largest online bookstore The research process is divided into two steps: The first step is to sieve out the representative comments with the aid of the corpus tool ProtAnt. The other is to graphically represent the readers' perception in a qualitative analysis on the rank of code, category, and theme with the help of qualitative analytical tool RQDA. The results show that the “translator’s voice” (footnotes, preface, etc.) is dramatically slashed in the abridgment so that readability is reduced. The original intention of Anthony Yu’s self-retranslation is to alleviate the burden on readers. On the contrary, the simplification of the preface and footnotes impacts on the comprehension of the abridgment. In line with the findings of ontological narratives in macro stylistics, the readers of the complete translation are able to distinguish the fictional Tripitaka from the historical monk Xuanzang. The readers of the abridgment do not have this information, however. The comments on both translations connect the physical pilgrimage with the spiritual evolution of the pilgrims. This is consistent with the findings of public narratives mentioned above. However, the readers of the abridgment do not recognize public salvation as a theme of the pilgrimage. The last question is how the readers classify the genre of this translated literature. The complete translation is understood in a wide variety as an Eastern epic, world literature, a children’s book, etc., while the abridgment is more frequently regarded as a piece of entertainment. Key Words: English translation of The Journey to the West, self-retranslation, narration study, cluster analysis, reception study, corpus stylistics, translation stylistics, corpus-informed translation stylistics
Date of Award26 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Tongji University
SupervisorZhang Delu (Promotor)

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